47. 5 April 1993 [ES] (Nye; "crucial"; academic methodology; Chettle)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Eric,

Thanks for letter or 26 March and delightful enclosures. I've missed a beat - the entry of Freeman. My fault for reading my TLSs in batches, out of order. Glad the aNyhilation is marching on (les ennemis de mes amis...)

   Your typed article is particularly brilliant for its four crucial (did you know that term was invented by Bacon?) consequences, killing dozens of birds in one throw. I shall want to quote you when dealing with the Baconian controversy in my new book. Comment? It came to me, on reading, that a slight toning down of the attack might make it the more effective, so they don't dismiss you as being always on the war-path. Perhaps fewer stressing adjectives like vital –  simple. But on reading over I couldn't find a single spear-thrust (or adjective) I would like to do without!

   It seems to be an inveterate custom in Academe to teach as a fact what is at best surmise, expecting – rightly, as it turns out – that mere repetition will do the trick. You'll have noticed how Shakespeare biographers suggest on p. 1, state on p. 10, take for granted on p. 15 and on p. 20 are basing other surmises on the one they have now proved by repetition. It's Don Quixote: 'Este, Sancho amigo, que ha de ser y es...' A case in point (we've spoken of I think?) is Chettle's famous description of 'Shakespeare's honesty and facetious grace', as it's invariably put, tho' he never mentioned Shakespeare, and there are quite as many arguments contra Shakespeare as candidate (including syntactical ones) as there are pro. However convinced we may be that Chettle was thinking of Shakespeare, surely the reader is entitled to know it's mere conjecture?

   Historians are the same. We are taught the history of Egypt with precise dates for every battle and Pharaoh. And only when we turn to a real historian –  e.g. Gardener – do we learn that there are huge gaps in our knowledge, and that a certain event (based on the positions of Sirius) might be a thousand years earlier or later.

   I'm just sending Vickers a few more pages of rev. His fault for delaying. But they will really be the last, deo volente.

   May the season of renewal renew you and endow you with eternal youth.